The three were Orlando Ortega, the Rio Olympic 110m hurdles silver medallist, Sergey Shubenkov, the reigning world champion at the event, and China’s own current sprint hurdles star, Xie Wenjun.
And the crowd? They were some 200 enthralled and noisy teenagers, students at the Shanghai Fengxian High School excitedly taking in the action as the Shanghai Middle School Athletes League played out before them on the school’s impressive track.
Those excitement levels rose noticeably, however, as the trio of special guests was introduced. And no wonder, for the sprint hurdles has had a special status in China ever since Shanghai’s most famous track and field prodigy, Liu Xiang, burst onto the global scene in the mid-2000s and knocked the all-powerful Americans off their perch by winning Olympic gold and breaking the world record.
His mantle has since passed to the likes of Xie, who made his name as a raw 24-year-old here two years ago when he triumphed in the Shanghai meeting’s annual showcase and climax event, beating a field of world champions, Olympic medallists and world record breakers to do so.
He went on to win the the Asian Championship title later that year and has since been a semi-finalist at world championships, indoors and out. His star status in China was clear to see on Thursday when he stood by the side of the Fengxian school track surrounded by dozens of eager autograph hunters and digital photo snappers.
The three professional hurdlers weren’t there just to rouse the rapture of their young fans, however, but to watch and scrutinise the senior boys’ 110m hurdles final, and offer coaching tips and technique demonstrations to four lucky young athletes.
The race was just the kind of event each of them might have been contesting only a few years ago, and they all greeted the winner, Li Huaihai, and his vanquished opponents with warm applause before putting them through a few smart drills and exercises.
“There,” said Shubenkov after one student had closely followed his example, snapping his trail leg just that little bit faster over the barrier. “Now, just do that a thousand times a day and you will be perfect.”
Perfect is impossible, of course, but these three pros know their expertise, honed by hours and hours of exercises such as these, combined with their willingness to spend a hot afternoon passing it on, could help inspire the next generation of Chinese hurdlers.
“I always enjoy doing events like these,” said Shubenkov, who had drawn gasps of awe from the onlookers when he raised a barrier to the senior height of 106.7cm, showing why the discipline is often referred to as the ‘high hurdles’.
“It’s always important to spend time with talented young athletes and give them some motivation,” he said. “I love doing it.”
Xie agreed: “I enjoy it because I was a student athlete too, not very long ago. I have many memories of when I was a teenager trying to learn the event.
“Maybe we’ll see one or two of these youngsters challenging me in the future. Who knows?”
As for Saturday’s race – when the camaraderie between these athletes-come-coaches evaporates in the heat of world-class competition – all were keen to play down their chances.
“I don’t really know what to expect,” said Shubenkov, who was unable to compete outside Russia last year. “I have never won at this meeting before, so it would be nice to do that.”
I will be tough, though, with Olympic champion Omar McLeod, 2013 world champion David Oliver, world record holder Aries Merritt, and 2015 world silver medallist Hansle Parchment also in the line-up.
“I won here two years ago but it will be very hard this time,” said Xie. “All the other athletes this year are of a very high level.
“I hope at least I can show my best to inspire these teenagers. I think the Diamond League should organise more coaching clinics like this. I’d love it.”
Judging by his reception at Fenxian High School this afternoon, there are plenty of the athletes who would love it too.